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Drive Charting: An Introduction

Aug 27, 2012, 1:05 PM EDT

source:  Welcome to a new weekly feature here on the Notre Dame Football blog, Drive Charting, a visual illustration of numbers inside and outside the box score that you need to know. The final scoreboard is the ultimate data point in any given game, but hundreds of other measures help shape the outcome. Each week, I’ll call attention to a stat or set of stats that played a significant role in the previous weekend’s game.

For the most part, I’ll be featuring stats that aren’t included in the common box score, like Field Position Advantage (FPA) illustrated above. Football is a game played in alternating possessions, and success on a particular possession is in part a function of starting field position. Success on the next offensive possession is influenced by starting field position as well. Drive by drive, football games are won by teams maximizing the value of their own opportunities and minimizing those of their opponents.

A team may generate great field position throughout a game and pin its opponent deep on every possession. More often, games are contested on a relatively even playing field until a turnover or special teams play shifts momentum. We can calculate the field position value of each drive for each team based on starting field position. Adding those values up gives us the total field position value for the game. FPA is the percent share of that total field position value for each team.

Over the last 10 seasons (125 games), Notre Dame has won almost twice as often when it has held a field position advantage than when it hasn’t. When the Irish have had an FPA greater than 53 percent in the same span, they have won 81.1 percent of their games. It is possible to overcome a significant field position disadvantage — ND’s victory against USC in 2010 and Boston College’s win over ND in 2004 are the outlier bookends in the chart above — but it isn’t very likely. The team that wins the field position battle often controls the game.

Brian Fremeau (’99) is a college football writer, stats analyst, and data visualization designer. His work regularly appears at ESPN Insider, ESPN the Magazine, Football Outsiders, and on his own site, BCF Toys. He develops and publishes numerous possession-based statistics including the Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI), a college football rating system based on opponent-adjusted drive efficiency. Follow Brian on Twitter.